The effect of real exchange rate misalignment on economic growth in South Africa
The growth performance of the South African economy over the past two and a half decades has been disappointing. The economy has not reached the high growth rates of the 1960s, which is desperately needed to alleviate poverty in the country. While the sources of growth have been a subject of much debate, recently the notion that the Real Exchange Rate (RER) level of a country matters for growth has attracted attention. While it is generally expected that the value of the currency should not remain constant and that the exchange rate fluctuates over time, in the long-term, it is expected to converge to an equilibrium level South Africa follows an inflation targeting framework and a free floating exchange rate regime. The exchange rate has been highly volatile since the abolishment of the dual exchange rate system in 1995. This implies that there were periods of overvaluation and undervaluation from the equilibrium level; in other words the rand experienced times of misalignment. In the event of misalignments, the RER is moved to levels which make it difficult for an economy to sustain international competitiveness over the long-run, and this is harmful to growth rates in the economy. This is especially true for countries, such as South Africa, which is heavily dependent on exports. The RER is therefore very powerful and has been argued to be the cause of loss of competitiveness and growth slowdowns. This study investigates this notion for South Africa. The main aim of this study is therefore to investigate the effects of RER misalignment on economic growth in South Africa. This implies that the study aims to determine the level of RER equilibrium, the misalignment in the real value of the rand, and how this misalignment has affected economic growth in the country. The Behavioural Equilibrium Exchange Rate (BEER) approach is followed to determine the Equilibrium Exchange Rate (EER), which allows for the use of fundamental macroeconomic variables to determine the real equilibrium level of the rand. Identified fundamental variables, which are the main drivers of the current RER in South Africa, include GDP per capita, trade openness, terms of trade, gross fixed capital formation and the real interest rate differential. A Vector Error-Correction Mechanism (VECM) is used in the estimation of the Real Equilibrium Exchange Rate (REER). Misalignment is calculated as the difference between the actual and the equilibrium real exchange rate. It is found that during the period under investigation (1985 to 2011) there have been substantial misalignments in the RER of the rand, though the currency was mostly overvalued. It is also shown that the rand does revert to its equilibrium level over time. The least square method is used to determine the effect of this RER misalignment on economic growth. Additional variables such as the initial level of GDP per capita, trade openness, terms of trade as well as gross fixed capital formation, are included in the growth specification. Trade reforms emphasise the importance of export-led growth in a commodity-rich economy, such as South Africa. The results indicate that the RER misalignment has a positive coefficient; this implies that a misalignment in the rand has not necessarily been harmful to economic growth. Therefore, it can be concluded that in the case of South Africa, misalignment is generally stimulating growth, but more so when the currency is undervalued. The results therefore show that the RER should be kept at competitive levels in order to boost economic growth in the country. The results also show support for the strategy of export-led growth in South Africa.